Review: Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney

Never Have I Ever - Katie Heaney

Initial reaction: Solid 2.5 stars. I liked some of Katie Heaney's statements about love and reflecting openly about her relationships through her life, but I was still very underwhelmed by this collective read. There were parts I just didn't connect with for various reasons that I'll expand upon in the review. One of the challenges about reflecting about your relationship history, even in a humorous, self-deprecating manner, is that it can get meandering very quickly if there's not a focal point to center what you're ultimately saying. Maybe that was the problem I had with this collection, among others.

Full review:

I jumped into this book with eagerness because the thematic of it as a memoir intrigued me. Any person who could be so brave to write about their respective relationship history (or lack thereof) has my utmost respect, because relationships, romantic or otherwise, can be complex and...complicated. I know this all too well, and I'm a single woman myself with degrees of relationship inexperience. (It's a long story, and probably more personal than I myself am willing to get into.)

Maybe I expected something like Allie Brosh's style of humor or something like E. Lockhart's "Ruby Oliver" series on the note of approaching relationships for style of humor (note, the latter is YA fiction, but still so relevant). That's not really what I got here, and maybe my expectations were set too high on the humor. I didn't really laugh that much here. A few chuckles here and there, and some identification (HEY! Polly Pocket! JTT crush!) of my generation. But honestly, this memoir was lacking something major, and even as I'm reflecting on it now - I'm not sure what it is that kept this from being more appealing than what it was. It should've been appealing to me, but felt more tedious and sometimes awkward - almost offensive in the translation of humor. And I have an open sense of humor for things (though the more I keep thinking of this read, I feel like I missed something other people who enjoyed this didn't. *hangs head*)

I'll attempt to list some rationales on why it didn't work for me, but it may be just a matter of personal preference. The complication in detailing your personal histories and relationships is that it can be difficult to find a focal point to really bring the relationships and ongoing narrative to terms in a way that holds continous attention. Heaney structured her memoir chronologically from childhood to grad school, which makes sense for following her perceptions of boys and crushes in general. That's cool. But not everyone has the same perceptions of what their relationships with boys are whether you're of the same or opposite sex. I could get behind Heaney saying that these experiences were unique to her mindset, but some of the global statements I couldn't get behind because my own experiences as a youth and growing up into teen and adult years were very different from her. I recognized that, but at the same time, the conversational tone here inadvertently (not intentionally) kind of isolates a lot of people for experience. Maybe if her experiences had been supplemented better not just in a chronological format, but also for theme, maybe I could've gotten behind it a little better. It felt scattered, jarring and didn't always connect or end well between sections of the narrative.

I also feel like I was just at arms length for most of her experiences. I got to know some of the guys she talked about, some of the frustrations she felt when relationships either didn't work out her way or she saw other people's relationships work out in horrible ways (which kind of had me on the fence about the portrayal, but I went with it anyway). I mean, I didn't expect this to be as intimate a narrative or for Heaney to start naming off her histories as bluntly as a Taylor Swift song, but...I guess I expected more investment? I don't know - it felt like something was missing through the rolling narrative, and it wasn't because of Heaney's lack of relationships but lack of expansion on what those relationships meant in reflection. It failed to be more meaningful and immersive for me.

I mean, if the relationships we have are like a larger tapestry that with each of us is made of different patterns and shapes and colors, we each have our own to show for it. Everyone is different and has different progressive points, and no relationship should be one that defines you as a whole. There's nothing wrong, and this is something I commended Heaney for saying in some measure - though belated in the narrative, with setting your own pace for your relationships and telling other people who shame you for not reaching a certain relationship milestone by a certain age to buzz off. First kisses, first dates, first anythings are things that come as they are and as you navigate the weird and complex realm that composes your relationships (again, romantic or otherwise). It's your life, do what you will and what makes you yourself happy. It's a process, and it can be messy, but ultimately it's something you experience.

I had issues more with trying to follow what meaning Heaney's relationships had in her development over time, and while some moments did give me a chuckle, I couldn't always identify or laugh along with her because the delivery she gives on some of her relationships feels clinical, not so much in description, but for intimacy.

For example, if I were to tell you the story of the Filipino guy I crushed on in my swim class, though I never dated him, he'd be a part of the tapestry that composes my relationships/non-romantic but "almosts". You would probably ask me what meaning that relationship had for me, if it was romantic in thought, but not necessarily in reality. He was a significant person in my life though I didn't end up knowing as well as a friend or S.O. He was a crush, true, but more. I knew him on a first name basis. He had dark curly hair and light eyes and the way the water reflected in his eyes when he smiled at me made my stomach and heart want to do butterfly kicks on their own. I could tell you about the way we were both pre-med/health science majors, discussed how we bombed both our tests in Genetics class and how hard the professor was.

I could tell you that we were both just learning to swim for the first time because our university required us to pass a swim test in order to graduate (they no longer have this rule now). I could tell you that even as a girl growing up 30 minutes away from the beach most of my life and wading in shallow water, I had trouble putting my face in the pool. He'd come over to me, put his hand on my back as my partner, and ease any fears I had about moving through the next steps. We helped each other float. Sometimes he'd lean in close to me because I spoke so softly, and I could tell he was listening to every word I said. I shocked the hell out of him one time when I pulled my two swim caps (yes I wore two) off my head and he realized I had a head full of hair. ("You should totally swim with your hair out like that. Makes you look like a mermaid." Maybe a somewhat curvy mermaid, but hey, I'd take that. And he didn't mind my curves.)

He even comforted me one of the times I took a dive off the side of the pool and hit my head pretty hard because I went in awkward on the deep end. (He put his arm around me in the water and told me it was okay after making sure I was okay. I scared my professor that day though.) I could tell you how he streamlined down the same lane as me, how lean, tanned, and taut his body was, how I imagined looping my arms around him or running my fingers down his slim chest and kissing him senseless. I could tell you about a few times we met at our popular dining hall and when I didn't eat the top of my pizza crust, he wanted it and he didn't care.

Why we never dated, I don't know - he was single, I was single. Why it never became something more, I can't say, but it was still a relationship that I valued and even with the crush that never became more, I think fondly of that. This is just one relationship, a series of moments in my tapestry.

Heaney did this kind of depiction in some measures in her memoir, with varying degrees of intimacy depending on the time she reflected. Moments like that were really cool to see, but many others were a harder to connect to as she went along through her life, and not so much funny or introspective as they were just rattling off details, which it was difficult to sustain interest in because it felt like a list rather than an experience.

I guess for all the narration here, Heaney has good moments, but ultimately I found it hard to connect or gain more meaning from the narrative in a way that resonated. It could be the way it was written, it could be the style of the humor just wasn't my cuppa (or enough of my cuppa), or it could be that the potential and structure of this just didn't add up to what it purported. Either way, it was a decent read, but not as much as I was hoping for.

Overall score: 2.5/5 stars

Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Grand Central Publishing.